Flea infections in kittens can be deadly
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By Mickey Zeldes  July 4, 2013 09:52 am

Fleas are such nuisances.  Both animals and people are in agreement on that.  But we rarely think of them as much more than just that – a nuisance.  But like mosquitos, the annoying sting of the bite is just the first step of what can turn out to be a deadly interaction.

The other day the shelter got in a box someone said they found by the dumpster of their apartment complex.  Cautiously, we opened up the box and found fleas.  Lots and lots of fleas and upon closer inspection, we found three young kittens hiding underneath all of them.  

You might think I’m exaggerating, but if you’ve ever picked up a tiny kitten and seen the entire surface of his skin moving with these little black pests (eew!) you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I once bathed a 2-week-old greyish kitten only to find out after the second shampooing that he really was an all white Siamese mix.  Then after applying advantage and letting him dry, I combed out (and counted) more than 100 fleas.  Now in case you’re unfamiliar with fleas and their habits, they get their nutrition from a blood meal, which is required for them to reproduce.  They bite and inject their saliva into the animal to prevent the blood from clotting (which is what causes flea allergies in our pets) so they can slowly enjoy their meal.  Some animals are so sensitive to this anticoagulant that it just takes one fleabite to start a full systemic allergic reaction in the dog or cat.  When you see a dog scratching himself raw, and with noticeable hair loss around the tail base, it is probably from a flea allergy.

When you think of the size of a 2-week-old kitten, they usually only weigh about six ounces. There is not much blood there to spare.  With more than 100 fleas biting and sucking a meal, it wouldn’t take long for the kitten to become anemic.  This is one way fleas become deadly.  Even with intervention and intensive care, that particular kitten didn’t make it.  Of the three that came in this recent box, all are hanging in there so far, but the smallest is definitely struggling to survive.

For an otherwise healthy adult animal, anemia is rare. Nevertheless, flea control should be taken seriously.  Not only is the itching uncomfortable (have you ever had an itchy rash from poison oak or poison ivy and wanted to rip off your skin?) but all the scratching and biting leaves open sores on the skin that can get infected and cause other skin issues.  Fleas are also the hosts for tapeworms and if swallowed by the dog or cat (remember they do some of their scratching with their teeth) can infect them as well.  That is so common that many veterinarians will prescribe a tapeworm medication automatically if a flea infestation is noted.  If the fleas are not eradicated, the host animal can get infected with tapeworms over and over again – which makes treatment expensive and frustrating.

Fleas carry other less known diseases such as Typhus and the Bubonic Plague.  Prevalence of these diseases varies by specie of flea as well as geographic location.  Fortunately, we haven’t had outbreaks of these ailments in quite a while.  That’s the good news – the bad is that this is a banner year for fleas in general. 

Eradication is impossible, but with good flea control measures you and your pets can be relatively flea-free.  It takes not only treating the animal but being aware of the environment where the pet lives too.  Fleas can live in a dormant state in carpet, for example, for up to two years.  Talk to your veterinarian for advice on how to launch a multi-prong attack and make sure the product you use not only kills adult fleas but also prevents their eggs from hatching.  With consistent use of a flea product you can win the war against these pests.

 

Upcoming events

• Meet the Bunny event, second Saturday of each month (next is July 13), 1-5 p.m.  Meet our adoptable rabbits, have your care questions answered by our knowledgeable rabbit volunteers, bring your rabbit for a free nail trim and support our small animals by shopping our Bunny Boutique for fresh hay, treats and toys.  We still have a couple pairs of baby bunnies.

• Is your pet a calendar pin-up? The deadline to submit photos is July 12.  All photos will be used. Go to rpanimalshelter.org for details.  This is a fundraiser for the shelter by the Animal Shelter League.

• Summer camp still has openings in some sessions.  Don’t let your young animal lover be bored this summer.  Details and application are available at rpanimalshelter.org.  

• Free pet ID tags and Microchips are available for all Rohnert Park and Cotati pets.  Stop by the shelter during our open hours to protect your pet – Wednesday 1-6:30 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday 1-5:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.

 

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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